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Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Darby O'Gill and the Little People(1959)

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teaser Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959)

Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959) starred Sean Connery, Janet Munro, Albert Sharpe, and Estelle Winwood in a fantasy about Irishman O'Gill (Sharpe) who falls down a well into the land of the leprechauns and manages to escape with their King Brian (Jimmy O'Dea). Darby and the King play games of cat-and-mouse, and in order to have a wish granted by Brian, Darby must play matchmaker between his daughter (Munro) and the handsome handyman Michael (Connery).

The film was based on the Darby O'Gill stories by H.T. Kavanagh from the turn of the century. Walt Disney had the idea of doing a cartoon series as early as the 1940s, before deciding on a live-action film. He sent artists to Ireland after World War II to get inspiration and announced that he would make the film (then under the working title of The Little People) during a visit to that country in 1948.

Disney originally wanted Barry Fitzgerald to play Darby O'Gill, but he had retired and felt he was too old. Albert Sharpe had come to Disney's attention when playing in Finian's Rainbow onstage in the 1940s, but he had also retired from acting and had to be convinced by Disney to take the role. Disney wanted to keep the illusion that the leprechauns were real, and he and Sharpe appeared in an episode of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color called I Captured the King of the Leprechauns, in which they "capture" King Brian and ask him and the other leprechauns to appear in the film.

Filming was done primarily on a large set on the Disney lot in Burbank, California over the course of fifteen weeks. Connery and many in the cast enjoyed drinking together in the evenings, but were less happy about their director, Robert Stevenson who directed Old Yeller (1957). They felt that Stevenson was more concerned with the special effects than the actors, and rarely allowed for any improvisation or veering from the script. Stevenson insisted on many retakes, which also angered the actors, who had to work in heavy makeup and costumes in the heat.

Darby O'Gill and the Little People did not wow the critics and was not the smash hit Disney expected. He blamed this on Fitzgerald's refusal to appear in the film. It was not a total loss for everyone, though. Producer Albert Broccoli saw Sean Connery at a preview on the Disney lot and asked his wife what she thought of him. Dana Broccoli felt that Connery had definite sex appeal, so he was tested for the role of James Bond and the rest is cinematic history.

By Lorraine LoBianco

SOURCES:

Clute, John and Grant, John The Encyclopedia of Fantasy

The Internet Movie Database

Pfeiffer, Lee and Lisa, Philip The Films of Sean Connery

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